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Black Rat Snake

Elaphe obsolete obsoleta

The black rat snake is completely black, except for its white chin and belly. (Furryscaly/Wikimedia Commons)
The black rat snake is completely black, except for its white chin and belly. (Furryscaly/Wikimedia Commons)

The black rat snake is a non-venomous snake with a long, black body and white belly. It can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from the mountains to the shoreline.


  • Black, scaly body
  • White belly and chin
  • Wedge-shaped head
  • Young black rat snakes, called hatchlings, are light gray with black blotches along the back
  • Grows 3.5-6 feet long


  • Lives in a wide variety of habitats, from rocky hills to dense forests to flat farmland
  • One of the most common snakes found in suburban backyards


  • Found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from sea level to the Appalachian Mountains


  • Eats mostly small rodents such as mice, rats, moles and chipmunks
  • Also known to feed on small lizards, frogs and bird eggs
  • Kills its prey by constriction, which means the snake coils its body around the prey and holds on until it suffocates to death. It then swallows its prey whole.


  • Protects itself from predators by coiling its body and vibrating its tail in dead leaves, imitating the sound of a rattle
  • May also release a foul-smelling musk if threatened

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Emerges from hibernation in March-May
  • Seeks out a mate in late April-early June. Males use pheromones to initiate mating with females that pass through their territory
  • Five weeks after mating, females lay 12-20 eggs in a hidden area, such as under leaves or within a hollow log. Eggs hatch 65-70 days later.
  • Females may lay two egg clutches per year, if conditions are right

Other Facts:

  • Excellent climbers that are able to scale brick walls and tree trunks without any aid
  • Shy and secretive, usually avoiding confrontation
  • May strike if they feel threatened. However, they are not venomous.

Sources and Additional Information:

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